About a decade ago, I had the idea to create a data logger, it would write data from a serial port to a USB thumb drive. I'd worked on a lot of devices that had serial output for their main interface or for debugging purposes. Normally, to get data, I'd have to hook a computer up to the gadget, hoping that the laptop batteries didn't die, that Windows didn't go to sleep, and that I didn't need to timestamp anything to greater than 4ms granularity (Window limitation). The ability to store days or weeks of data would be fabulous.
I chose the processor because it had the bare minimum I needed and a USB device. I got a wonderful and generous EE to help me choose the other components and make a schematic. I paid for it to get laid out, ordered all the parts, built kits, got boards fabbed, bought cases, worked with a model shop to get the cases cut for the boards. I learned a whole heck of a lot. The boards came in and came up ok but the vendor's USB library worked with only one or two thumb drives. I worked with the vendor to expand their library. Then I got a full time position and the frustrations of dealing with the vendor… well, I just finally got rid of the boards and cases recently (though not the completed one, there on the left of the pic). About two years ago, someone else built a data logger, one that I could just buy and it would do what I wanted.
About six years ago, I saw a product design contest and entered it with a neat new idea. I wanted microcontrolled Christmas lights, ones that I could put up and never take down because they'd change color to match the upcoming holiday. With a marketing VP friend, I wrote a complete business plan (summary: holiday decoration is a huge market). The software was easy to explain and the market was there but the hardware was difficult. The way the lights were to be controlled led them to have an unwieldy cable, making them expensive and essentially unmarketable.
Two years ago, GE came out with individually addressable LED strands (on the right in the pic). A hacker worked out the control protocol shortly thereafter. Anyone who wants to make my holiday lighting needs the $50-80 light strand, a $30 Arduino controller, and freely available program. Ok, so it is still expensive but it isn't impossible anymore. After I (and another wonderful EE) presented how to put this together at this spring's Embedded Systems Conference, I was accosted by an engineer for a lighting company asking if I had patented the idea (no, I just wanted someone to build it for me, I didn't want to block development). After a bit of searching, a generous patent agent friend found that Philips had patented “LED as applied to…” well, anything… including the “tidy bowl” application.
About three, maybe four, years ago, I got an idea for a video game called Shoe Shopping Adventure. The player would make life choices (i.e. career, friends vs. work) and that would translate into their need for different varieties of shoes, their available funds, and their time allotted for shopping. I learned a bit about iPhone programming, drawing shoes, and designing games. I tried to get Zappos involved because I was thinking that one way to avoid doing a lot of UI design is to use actual pictures of actual shoes. And as a revenue source, people who bought shoes in the game might want to see those same shoes for themselves later. Anyway, I only bugged one software friend and she mostly just had to listen to me babble one afternoon. Well, and my husband who has been supportive through all of these. So far, no one has made this game for me (yet) but I stopped development because it is a heck of a lot of work (and because I started writing Making Embedded Systems).
It isn't that I don't finish things. I do. I mean, I wrote a book (two, actually!). And I've shipped tens of products. But those have been for other people, for the companies that I've been employed by. The book was for myself but I had some external impetus there.
So it is with some trepidation that I say, once again, I have an idea. I wonder if I'm ready. And what I'll learn.